Orchid Conservatory- No cost
The guide book said to follow the signs and that was exactly what we did. It wasn't hard at all to find the orchid conservatory. If you like orchids or are into gardening this makes a nice little activity. There is one main building and then a green house filled with orchids which are cultivated on the premises. There are orchids of every size, shape and color, some of which I've never seen. The down side, at least on the day of our visit, was that the guide didn't speak English at all and we hadn't really spent much time learning gardening or orchid cultivating terms. We were able to ask a few questions and understand the answers, but I'm sure it would have been much more interesting if we spoke fluent Spanish. It took less than an hour to explore the main building and green house, making it a great option if you are looking to kill some time before a meal.
Las Pozas - cost- nothing
If you simply follow the signs, they will lead you to this enchanting cascading stream. High rock walls rise up on both sides, topped with trees so dense that the sunlight barely peaks through, glittering off the water in sporadic patches. Iridescent blue butterflies chase each other around as brightly colored birds chirp and flutter from tree to tree. The only sounds are the birds, the rushing water and occasionally the snort of a horse who has stopped by to get a drink. The whole place smells of rich earth mixed with the lingering faint scent of flowers. It was so secluded that we felt like we were the only people in all of El Valle, even though we passed a family swimming at the upper end of the stream. My thoughts ran wild as I imagined that this was certainly the home of at least one tribe of fairies. They probably flew to their hiding places and were watching us as we spent at least an hour just sitting by the water enjoying the peace. If I ever return to Las Pozas, I will bring a picnic lunch and a book and while away a whole afternoon in splendid tranquility. I think this spot is generally overlooked by tourists, all the better for you to visit.
El Valle Museum- cost- 50 cents
The El Valle Museum is located on the main street and is attached to the very large white church. Although it's fairly small, it is worth checking out as there are many interesting artifacts. The museum contains a good amount of information explaining how El Valle used to be a volcano, but eventually became a town. They have some impressive art work, as well as pottery and Panamanian clothing on display. Our visit was unique because as we browsed the displays, there was a worship service going on in the church and the sound of united voices floating gently into the museum, made our experience seem somehow spiritual. We are museum nerds so we spent a good hour looking about, if you are not that big into museums, it’s worth checking out, but don’t plan to be there all day. Also an important note, the museum is only open on Sunday.
Sunday Market- cost- free to look or whatever you want to spend
Although not as big as I imagined, the outdoor market on the main street in El Valle is a great place to pick up all of your souvenirs. It is open every day, but there are more vendors on Sunday which attracts droves of tour buses packed with Bermuda short wearing visitors. Something that I was very impressed by was the politeness of the vendors. No one pressures you or shouts at you or shoves things at you to buy. If you are interested in something, they are more than happy to help you, but we never felt any pressure to make a purchase, which might be one of the reasons we ended up buying almost all of our souvenirs there. They have just about anything you would want to purchase from food, to t-shirts, to native handicrafts. We bought two mola bags and a hand woven basket and later found out that we got a really good deal as the prices, for said items were much more expensive in the city.
Sipping bastidos at Don Peppie's- cost- $1.50 per bastidos
If you visit the market on Sunday, I highly recommend ordering a bastidos at Don Peppies (right next door to the market) and enjoying it at one of the outside tables. A bastidos is kind of like a fruit smoothie although there is less milk added and much more fresh fruit. You can get them in an array of fruit flavors, pineapple being my personal favorite. The outdoor seating is the perfect place to watch tourists scurrying back to their tour busses laden with purchases from the market (making snarky comments about them is optional). While we sat sipping on our yummy treats a small group of children began making a game of walking slowly around the building but suddenly running very fast by us as though we would suddenly snatch them up and carry them away as souvenirs. It was very amusing and we were all laughing and having fun playing the game.
Chorro El Macho- cost $2.50 per person
Located at the Canopy Adventure is the waterfall, Chorro El Macho. It was…. well a waterfall. I view all waterfalls as being very cool and this one was no exception, although I must admit that it was not overly impressive. The walk to the waterfall took about fifteen minutes with a well marked trail and a very neat but extremely safe suspension bridge. If you take the three hour hike at Canopy Adventures or are fortunate enough to ride the zip lines seeing the waterfall is included with those experiences. If those two activities don’t interest you, then you can pay the $2.50 to walk the trail and see the waterfall. I thought that Las Pozas was a much better sight, it was free and there was just something more magical about it.
Three sights that we didn’t visit were the petro glyphs, the square trees and El Nispero, which is the zoo. We had already seen plenty of petro glyphs in Nevada, I’d read that the square trees were just a tourist trap and I read several reviews saying the zoo was just sad, and I was afraid it might drive me to do something crazy like liberate all the animals and then end up in a Panamanian prison.